What did Hillel look like? We do not know. There is not a single physical description that I can find, anywhere. When I wrote the biography of Maimonides, I had plenty of information about his looks, which made my life easy; he looked a bit like Sean Connery and so I knew where I was, writing about him. I find it essential. Having a visual image is crucial for me, so what was I to do about Hillel? Clearly, I had to build my own image. I had some facts to go by. First, the legends say that he was extremely careful about cleanliness and personal grooming. Second, he most likely wore a beard. Third, since he was extraordinarily intelligent, he could not look stupid. Fourth, and most important, he was a direct descendant of David the King, so there is no reason not to use great-great-something-grandpa’s image as a model.
David is described as extremely handsome and charming. During the fight with Goliath, the Bible makes it clear that David was not very big and was rather slight, despite his physical strength, proven when he defended his flocks from lions and bears. The slightness might be due to his youth, but then much later, he was capable of extremely energetic dancing, which earned him the well known rebuke from his wife Michal, so he probably retained this built for his entire life. His hair is described as red, which makes sense since his great-grandmother was Ruth, the Moabite, and many of her country people had red hair. His eyes are described as beautiful. Well, what would constitute beautiful eyes? I can’t tell, but since most Israelites at the time had brown eyes, I suspect that blue eyes might earn this description. The fact that women found him irresistible is well documented, too, and the loyalty showed by many men brings forward a strong and attractive personality which no doubt showed in his face.
So here we go. A man with strong personality, great charm, intelligent face, blue eyes that must have stood out in a tanned face (since the sun in Judea was very strong), medium height but strong physique, well groomed reddish hair and beard… I don’t know about you, but here is what I see: